7 Days of Powerful, Practical, Immediate Stress Management Tools: Day 1

7 Days of Powerful, Practical, Immediate Stress Management Tools: Day 1

There is no quick fix to stress. There are, however, ways to manage your stress and/or anxiety in the moment that will help you to feel immediate relief. These tools, when practiced daily and constantly can also help you to manage your stress in the long run.

I decided to write about some immediate, practical stress management tips because I am all to familiar with that feeling of overwhelm, anxiety and mounting stress. For me it presents as tightness in my chest and shallow breathing, sometimes a tension headache, which feels like there is a tight band wrapped around my head. Those are my body’s signals to tell me it’s acutely stressed.

So I wanted to do a week’s worth of easy and effective stress management tools, and day 1 starts with a breathing technique. Go to my instagram for the post (@stresswellwithliz).

There are TONS of breathing techniques out there used for relaxation, meditation, and stress reduction, but today I want you to focus on one called diaphragmatic breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes called belly breathing, strengthens your diagram- a muscle that helps you breathe. There are tons of benefits to diaphragmatic breathing, some being:

  • Lowers your blood pressure
  • Lowers your heart rate
  • Helps you relax
  • Lowers your stress hormone cortisol
  • Mostly importantly, it reduces your feelings of stress

So, let’s get to that breathing technique. Here’s how it works:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position or lie on a flat surface
  2. Relax tension in your body
  3. Breathe in through your nose for 2-3 seconds. Expand your stomach with air and make sure your chest stays relatively still.
  4. Contract your stomach and exhale through your mouth, with a pursed expression, for about 2 seconds.
  5. Repeat several times.
  6. Indulge in the relaxation

You can try this just about anywhere. It’s free and only takes several minutes of your time. Go try it! And let me know how it goes for you.

 

Therapy is Not Easy

Therapy is Not Easy

Have you ever gone to therapy or considered seeking therapy?

I have. And I’m not ashamed to say that I currently do weekly talk therapy. In this post I have one overarching message to share from my experience with therapy and different therapists, and it is that therapy isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

Therapy isn’t easy in so many ways. The process of finding a therapist who specializes in the type of therapy you might benefit the most, let alone one in your price range, insurance coverage, and who practices nearby all present difficulties when tasked with finding a therapist. Luckily, Google is your friend when facing these difficulties.

You can research just about anything you need to know, from specialty, price, and location to patient reviews for therapists in your area. And trust me, you will want to do this research. It’s quite defeating committing yourself to a one-hour therapy session to find out that you and that therapist are not a good fit. That leads me to a second reason therapy is not easy.

After you find a therapist that fits your price, specialty, and location needs, you will want to meet the therapist in person and have one or several sessions with them to determine whether or not they are a good fit for what you are seeking from therapy. Several things you want to feel with a therapist are comfort, lack of judgment, openness, acceptance, and trust. You want to feel like you can build a trusting relationship in which you can be open and honest and also comfortable to share everything with the therapist who is trying to help you.

If you’ve tried therapy before or are in a situation now where you feel like you cannot be fully honest with your therapist, or if you feel judgment from them, I urge you to not give up on the idea of therapy as a practice that can help you. Just because the fit isn’t right doesn’t mean that therapy with the right therapist won’t help you. You might, however, need to evaluate your current situation and try seeking out a different therapist and potentially a different type of therapy.

This happened to me the first time I sought therapy. I had about five or ten sessions with a therapist where, in our sessions, we would talk about things that had happened and relationships in my childhood and adolescence that could have affected the way I feel and act currently. Doing so was extremely difficult and emotional for me. In my life, I’ve buried many things in my past as a coping mechanism, and uncovering those things brought a ton of emotional turmoil into my present and affected me long after the therapy sessions were over. After this experience I figured that therapy just wasn’t for me. It was too painful. I didn’t like revisiting the things that I had buried for a reason.

I got a bit older and my anxiety got worse. I had a full blown panic attack at 22 years old and lived in fear of another panic attack for two years after that. I had low mood and impulsivity but also was functioning fairly well in my life so I thought it was something I could try to deal with on my own.

Then I found myself one day staring into the train tracks, thinking of how easy it would be to just fall in, and I knew I needed help. I sought therapy from my school’s mental health center, since I didn’t know what else to do. I needed someone else to understand how desperate I was for help, and I was too scared to open up to anyone close to me about it.

This type of therapy was different. I saw the therapist for a total of ten sessions (since this was the free allowed amount) and we never spent a single session digging into my past. We talked about my past and childhood in small doses but we focused on my mood and problems in the present, and how I could deal with what I was facing in the present. I felt more comfortable engaging in these types of sessions and sometimes came away feeling sad, but also felt empowered and like I could regain control of my life.

After I finished that stint of schooling and moved across the country I figured it would be beneficial for me to continue some type of therapy, so that I could avoid falling into the super low mood and scaring myself. This is when I discovered ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

ACT is a type of therapy that focuses on your present self, and how you can make changes in your present to help yourself to feel better. Instead of emphasizing control of your thoughts and feelings, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy does, ACT encourages you to accept and notice your thoughts and feelings. It helps you to develop compassion for yourself for having these thoughts and feelings, but also helps you to not linger or ruminate on them.

ACT therapy in combination with an open, comforting, trusting therapist has provided the right combination for me in what I am seeking from a therapy experience. However, therapy still isn’t easy.

The third thing that isn’t easy about therapy is… doing the actual therapy. Pretty intuitive but sitting with a stranger, talking about your thoughts and emotions, your childhood, your relationships with others, and your life in a nutshell is NOT easy! Revisiting past events and situations, which were potentially traumatic is not easy. Accepting impartial commentary and advice on coping with these events is not easy. And making changes in your daily life as suggested during therapy is not easy.

All of these things make therapy not easy. But the more important message here is that while therapy might not be easy, it is worth it.

For me, it’s really difficult to put a price tag on my mental health. Without my mental health I wouldn’t have my livelihood, and I might not have my life. I have prioritized therapy as an expense over other things in my life. I have worked to find a therapist that is a good fit for me, and one that I can trust. And I am now in a position where if I work at it I can improve my state of being.

Therapy is worth it in more ways than I could count or explain in a blog post. Therapy can restore your hope that you can have a happy life. Therapy can help you to find the things that mental illness or burnout or exhaustion might have robbed you from, like your confidence, self-esteem, and motivation. It can empower and give you the tools to help yourself when you need it.

So overall, if you’re reading this and you’re considering trying therapy, I strongly encourage you to try it! If you’re in therapy and not happy about it then I strongly encourage you to try a different therapist or a different type of therapy. Most importantly I encourage you to not give up. You’re a strong person for seeking help for yourself. And while therapy might be tough at times, just remember how worthwhile it will be.

What Happened to the ‘Health’ in ‘Mental Health’

What Happened to the ‘Health’ in ‘Mental Health’

When we talk about mental health, we aren’t talking about health. We’re actually talking about the lack of health. ‘Mental health’, as a term, attempts to signify the state of one’s mental well being, but it has become more synonymous with “mental illness” or the lack of mental health.

You can observe a similar trend with the study of psychology. The study of psychology focuses on situations where mental health, per say, is lacking or off balance. Rather, when mental function is unhealthy. The fact that psychology focuses on what is missing from mental health, or how one has fallen “mentally ill” and must be restored back to their mental health, spurred the need for a topic called positive psychology.

Positive psychology, aside from being one of my favorite and most inspiring classes in college, covers the topic of mental flourishing and the idea of optimal mental functioning. It does not focus on illness, but rather focuses on betterment.

I’ve found this is similar to the way we talk about mental health today. Mental health, and talking about it, is often stained with a negative light, and makes you think of things like stigma, shame, and illness. And this might be ok for now. Well, not the stigma and shame part. That’s why I’m so open about my struggles with ‘mental health’. I believe that talking about it open and honestly is my way of attacking the stigma and shame head on. And I love doing it, but alas, mental health does not need to be seen in this way.

Regardless of what the conversations around mental health in this country have showed you, and what our medical community’s approach to mental health has showed you, you do not need to fall ill to take an interest in and prioritize your mental health.

Like positive psychology is to psychology, mental wellness can be to mental health. And there are so many ways that we can improve our state of mental wellness and make it a priority.

Here are some of the ways you can seek out mental wellness.

  1. Live authentically and purposefully
  2. Give yourself the time and outlets to find authenticity and purpose in you life – this can mean practices like meditation, reflection, mindfulness, or yoga
  3. Prioritize movement
  4. Treat your body and gut with compassion
  5. Be open to helping others and also set boundaries
  6. Cherish social support
  7. Listen to your body and let yourself rest

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and ways that you seek mental wellness! It’s something that is so near and dear to me, and I’ve incorporated into my course on stress management.

The reality is that everyone can benefit from prioritizing their mental health, or mental wellness. There are countless ways to do it and you need to believe that you deserve it.

 

 

Listen to Your Body

Listen to Your Body

Your body always knows what it needs before you know what it needs. And if you listen closely, you can hear it. 

When we are stressed, the body will exhibit signals, from extremely minute to obviously loud, and we can use these signals to understand and cope with the stress we are experiencing.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stress, because stress manifests itself differently in different people.

The next time you feel stressed, if you are able, stop whatever it is that you are doing. Take a minute and listen to your body. Scan from your toes to the crown of your head and examine what you feel. Listen to what your body is telling you. Are your calves tingling? Is your heart rate accelerated or heavy? Are you sweating more than usual? Is your breathing shallow? And how do your head and your mind feel. Does your train of thought feel like whatever is normal for you? Are you feeling aches anywhere? These are just some questions to ask yourself, but the feelings in your body can guide you. I created a worksheet here (Brain Dump Worksheet) to help guide you in this process.

Bodily signals have been a way for the body to speak to the mind in organisms since the beginning of time. The body tells us when to eat, when to drink, and when to rest. Less acknowledged is the body’s ability to tell us when we are stressed.

The body acknowledges extreme threats with a very noticeable stress response. This response acts through the sympathetic nervous system, a part of the autonomic nervous system, which is a system that maintains homeostasis, or balance, in the body. The autonomic nervous system unconsciously acts to keep the body’s many systems in balance. So, without you consciously thinking about it, the body is working to interpret and react to external signals like threats to your body and life.

A sympathetic nervous system stress response is colored by symptoms like an accelerated heart rate and breathing, sweating, and a sense of urgency. This reaction prepares the body (fight or flight) to literally face the danger at hand or run from it. In modern society while such severe threats are much less common, we still experience stress, and stress that can be present for long periods of time.

A good way to listen to your body is to sit in a quite, comfortable place, observe your thoughts and feelings, and write them all down. Do a body scan like I described above. Use a worksheet like the one I created here (Brain Dump Worksheet) to guide you. I know you want to become less stressed, or at least better at managing your stress, and this is the first step in doing just that.